Factors Associated With Medical School Graduates’ Intention to Work With Underserved Populations: Policy Implications for Advancing Workforce Diversity

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Given projected U.S. physician shortages across all specialties that will likely impact underserved areas disproportionately, the authors sought to explore factors most correlated with medical school graduates’ intention to work with underserved populations (IWUP).


Data from the 2010–2012 Association of American Medical Colleges Medical School Graduation Questionnaire (n = 40,846) were analyzed. Variables (demographics, career preference, debt burden, intention to enter loan forgiveness programs) were examined using chi-square tests and logistic regression models.


Respondents included 49.5% (20,228/40,846) women, 16.6% (6,771/40,837) underrepresented minorities (URMs), and 32.4% (13,034/37,342) with primary care intent. The median educational debt was $160,000. Respondents who were women (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 1.59, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.49, 1.70), URMs (aOR 2.50, 95% CI 2.30, 2.72), intended to enter loan forgiveness programs (aOR 2.44, 95% CI 2.26, 2.63), intended to practice primary care (aOR 1.65, 95% CI 1.54, 1.76), and intended to emphasize nonclinical careers (aOR 1.23, 95% CI 1.11, 1.37) had greater odds of reporting IWUP. Among those who chose specialties and careers with a nonclinical emphasis, and among those with greater burdens of educational and consumer debt, URMs were nearly twice as likely as other minorities and whites to report IWUP.


Findings suggest physician characteristics that may be associated with filling workforce gaps in underserved areas. Restructuring financial incentive programs to support physician leaders and specialists with characteristics associated with IWUP may complement similar policies in primary care and could have key impacts on health equity in underserved areas.

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